Origin of a Classic: Tarte Tropézienne

by Anne E. McBride

Saint-Tropez, on the French Côte d’Azur, evokes luxurious summer vacations spent doing little more than achieving a perfectly bronzed body, sipping rosé and pastis on a terrace, hidden behind large sunglasses like the many stars who favor the town, and finishing the day in its famed night clubs. Saint-Tropez is where Brigitte Bardot became an international sex symbol, dancing suggestively in Roger Vadim’s film, And God Created Woman, and forever bringing sensuality and star power to the resort.

Brigette also named its most famous dessert, the Tarte Tropézienne. Alexandre Micka, a Polish immigrant, had opened a pastry shop in Saint-Tropez in 1955, where he sold one of his grandmother’s recipes, a rich round and flat brioche split in half, filled with an unctuous combination of two different creams, and studded with pearl sugar. Stories vary as to whether Alexandre was catering on the set of And God Created Woman, filming that same year, or if the cast and crew simply became regulars at his shop. Regardless, they fell in love with his tart, with no one raving louder than Brigitte. She declared that it needed a proper name and suggested Tarte de Saint-Tropez, which Alexandre further derived into Tarte Tropézienne, a name he registered in 1973. He also adopted the name for his pastry shop at the Place des Lices, a few blocks from the harbor, as La Tarte Tropézienne.

In 1985, Albert Dufrêne joined Alexandre and eventually became the owner of the company. He expanded it by opening 20 additional locations throughout France and developing a robust online business that sells the original tarte and several variations, including ones flavored with pistachio, coffee, hazelnut, raspberry, or chocolate. The filling’s recipe remains the one Alexandre received from his grandmother and passed on to Albert, handwritten on a piece of cardboard. It’s also still a well-kept secret: the Tarte Tropézienne company claims that only three people know its exact composition, presumably the three who need to know in order to produce it.

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